Could HR solve...? Bridesmaids

A retail worker is humiliated by her boss when personal issues affect her at work

The problem

Jewellery sales assistant Annie Walker is finding it hard to meet targets when problems in her personal life begin to seep into her working life. After a failed sale, her boss, Don, criticises her and asks her why she can’t be “more like Kahlua", a colleague he clearly favours. When Annie responds that she is trying, Don tells her to try harder. But could he have used a different approach to motivate and support Annie when she’s clearly struggling?

The solution

In the space of just over a minute, Don manages to use inappropriate behaviour, humiliation, sexual harassment and bullying while dealing with what should have been a simple opportunity to provide Annie with feedback, says Ian Moore, people director at Lodge Court. “Giving feedback in an open workspace or public area should never happen,” he says. “This could adversely impact the business’s reputation and brand, not to mention have a negative impact on the engagement of the team.” 

Don obviously thought asking Kahlua to demonstrate her ‘love is eternal face’ to show Annie how it’s done would be helpful but, as Moore points out, this actually had the opposite effect: “In the right learning environment, observing how other colleagues handle different situations can be very powerful in helping to develop skills and confidence, but to do so in front of others is humiliating.” 

Moore suggests that more one-to-one support would be helpful for Annie, as well as changing the direction and tone of the conversation. “Providing feedback is a skill, not a gift,” he says. “And one that needs to be developed and practised to ensure the maximum positive impact on the individual’s performance and the engagement of the team.”